Photo: Kyle Porter, the Gazette (2016)

After years of running on a beat-down indoor “track” wrapped around a hockey rink, the University of Western Ontario Mustangs track and field team is apparently getting closer to finally receiving the official news they have long awaited. According to Western’s director of sport and recreation, Christine Stapleton, the underwhelming 200m facility, which has long taken punishment from a Zamboni and hockey skate blades, is about to benefit from a track surface replacement. Though Stapleton admits that there is “still a lot of work ahead,” she says: “we are hopeful to keep [the resurfacing] in the fiscal year of 2020.” The Mustangs hope this is not yet another false alarm. Similar plans had been spoken of in 2015 to no avail.

In recent years, the growing mismatch between the University’s massive endowment fund of $679 million – which ranks eighth among all Canadian universities – and the disappointing quality of the Mustangs’ deteriorating track and field facility had elicited frustration from the team’s athletes and coaches, and was garnering an increasing amount of attention from the Canadian running community. The track is located in the Thompson Recreation and Athletics Centre (TRAC), which is also home to both the male and female Western Mustang hockey teams. Track wear and tear, obstruction from circulating hockey players, and conflict for facility rental time are all obstacles the nationally competitive athletics program continuously faces and in turn, the track and field program suffers.

As Canadian universities do not have an outdoor track season, indoor track facilities end up being the primary training ground for student-athletes as they prepare for meets and championships.

Courtney Langille, a fourth year student and 2017 U Sports silver medallist in the 4 x 200m believes that renovations to her home track would benefit the team on many levels. “Firstly,” says Langille, “material that is more absorbent and easier on the joints, would be safest for athletes. A new surface would also prevent any future dangerous bubbling of the track due to water, which has been an issue in the past”. The water from the Zamboni had previously seeped under the track and made for uneven footing – hazardous stuff when taking corners at top speed.

“Secondly,” Langille continues, “sometimes, prospective recruits are drawn in by our University’s strong academic reputation, but when they see the track, the school does not appeal to them anymore. With improvements to our facility and better material, we would attract a lot more young talent.”

Langille’s and the Mustangs’ head coach, Vickie Croley, was pleased with the University’s intent to resurface, and is hopeful that plans are followed through this time. “This is definitely a step in the right direction for the track and field program,” she says. “It will improve the quality of our facility.” Croley is in her 23rd year of coaching, and despite being confined to a suboptimal training venue, she has coached 31 men and women’s teams to OUA track and field aggregate medals, as well as two national championships. Notably, she was the lead coach for Canadian 2016 Olympic Bronze medallist, Damian Warner, in Rio. A former varsity hurdler and long jumper, one would say she knows her way around the track.

Assuming that Stapleton and the Western Athletic Department stay true to their word, Croley will be one step closer to her next goal in coaching. “It is my dream to host a big championship meet here – this facility has potential to improve and to host.” An inadequate track surface and the presence of hockey boards are the only two obstacles left standing in Croley’s way. Though the 2020 plans hopefully take care of the former, the latter remains a problem. The boards are hazardous during meets, for they decrease visibility and their glass component is prone to breaks. In fact, a rogue hammer shattered a sheet of glass at this year’s Don Wright Team Challenge meet, endangering nearby athletes and spectators.

Though removal of the ice rink is not in the immediate plans, Croley is dedicated to improve the facility as much as possible in the meantime. “I hope to have a say in some of the next renovations we make. We want to make this place as competition-friendly as we can. I am hopeful that someday, the rink gets removed, or that a new facility gets built, but for now, we have to be patient. Hearing that our athletic department will invest in our track is a victory for the program.”

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  • Yves says:

    Hockey “STAKE” Blades? Wear and “TARE”? C’mon man.

  • Bruce Deacon says:

    That looks an awful lot like the track I raced/trained on in 1985-89. I remember the hockey team doing their shooting drills by aiming at the glass where the runners were training. You’d be hunkering down for the last lap of a 1000m repeat, when you’d hear a sudden “thunk” as the puck hit the glass right next to where you were running. It was a sub-standard facility then, and I am surprised it hasn’t been updated long ago. If we want to keep promising athletes in Canada, we need to raise our game on the facility side.

    • Jerry Kooymans says:

      It also looks like the track I raced and trained on in 1978-79, except it looks even worse after 40 years of wear and tear. This is pathetic. I’m embarrassed for the university. A decent indoor track in a city that is in the snow belt is a necessity, not a luxury, not just for the track team, but for any students who would like to get in some exercise during the long, cold winters.

  • Alex says:

    The funding to support other sports at western can be questioned besides just the track team. The volleyball and basketball teams have been left using the old and retired ref center gyms. The floors are horrible and have not been replaced for an incredibly long time. The new rec centre supports only a select variety of teams and millions were poorly used to build such a center. It is sad and pathetic how uwo athletic administration and facilities are run. Even though teams are owned by the university they are required to pay for gym time for games and practices. Western profits internally by ripping off their own teams.

  • Beatrice says:

    University athletes are NOT the majority of students. Spending a bunch of money on a new sports facility does not serve the interests of the student body as a whole – money could be better spent on more study space or something or maybe on addressing the disparity in income and benefits between faculty and sessionals. By all means, fix the current facility, make it safe, try to enforce rules regarding proper treatment of the equipment but spend money on a new facility – NO!

  • So how could Sault College afford a brand new Centre about 4 years ago? I’m sure the university would get financial assistance somehow.

  • Antonio says:

    All the mustangs teams, even the higher profile ones suffer incredibly inadequate funding and rely on the excellent academic reputation of the school and the overwhelming dedication of coaches and support staff that pour their passion and world class expertise into their respective sports. The teams seem to succeed despite inadequate funding and substandard facilities.
    Although they deserve so much better it should not diminish the many who quite generously donate towards the enriched life that becomes an amateur student athlete and the inspiring intangibles they bring to their respective communities

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